Executive Interview - Jack Pellicci and Xavier Lopez, Oracle Corporation

By Joe Francica

Pellicci-Lopez Interview - Oracle
Editor-in-Chief, Joe Francica, sat down to talk to Jack Pellicci and Dr.Xavier Lopez of Oracle during the Location Technology & Business Intelligence Executive Symposium on May 10th in Philadelphia.

Pellicci is Group Vice President of the Business Development Group for Oracle's Government, Education, Health and Aerospace/Defense Industries (OGEH).He is responsible for positioning Oracle's strategic capabilities with customers and partners and generating new business.Pellicci joined Oracle in 1992 after retiring from the U.S.Army as a Brigadier General with 30 years experience leading and training people, managing technology and improving productivity in command and staff assignments in both peace and war.

Lopez is Director of Oracle's Spatial, Location and Network technologies group.Dr.Lopez leads Oracle's efforts to incorporate spatial technologies across Oracle's database, application server, and eBusiness applications. He has 14 years of experience in the area of GIS and spatial databases. He holds advanced engineering and planning degrees from University of Maine, MIT, and the University of California, Davis.

In this exclusive interview for Directions Magazine, Francica (JF) discusses with Pellicci (JP) and Lopez (XL) how Oracle is addressing customer needs for location technology and what customers are looking for in terms of functionality to allow spatial information to become a strategic advantage for the corporation.

JF: How important is location technology to Oracle's database strategy and in the realm of business applications that Oracle develops?

JP: If you go back, for me, 12 years ago, when it was a glimmer in our eye, and there was a project going on in Canada, where they were working with the Canadian hydrographic center, on what was then known as, Oracle Multi-dimension, there was a commitment made for a number of years to Oracle for putting spatial capability in its core database; putting it in its Application Server, now; putting it in its applications and spatially enabling its applications..

We take location as a very strategic capability that has to be accounted for in everything we do.

I think it has a very high priority and a deep commitment to it, but it is not one you are going to see flashing all over the marketing banners. Because the senior people feel we've done so much to make our database spatially enabled and we are spatially enabling our applications.

JF: You said something similar in the conference session to something that I have said before, which is that you could "cobble" together a GIS system without going to one of the current system providers and using some of the available tools on the market today in conjunction with an Oracle database and the spatial functionality that it includes. Do you see that the market is ready to enhance enterprise systems using Oracle's spatial functionality and bypassing the current, core GIS technology providers? And do you believe that pushing the idea of spatial information further into the enterprise may be "catalyzed" by a smart DBA, not a GIS person, who recognizes the potential in the functionality provided by Oracle's spatial technology?

JP: Well, I agree with that, and I don't think it's a matter of "cobbling" together.I think Xavier and the people at the New England Development center have done a great job of doing what our customers have asked us to do.I don't have the authority, or could I ever get a requirement, nor could Xavier, without having a business case for it.We're doing what our customers are asking us to do.And our customers want certain requirements so we have to build a business case to do that.

XL: In terms of where Oracle is in terms location-enabling our apps.This is one activity where Oracle is further ahead than any of the applications vendors, whether it is SAP, Siebel, Cognos, or whether its in BI, CRM, ERP; we are working to do that.We have, shipping, CRM products that are location-enabled.We are going to take advantage of spatial.So, we have gone further.I will acknowledge, though, that the challenge there is that the organizations that are using business applications like CRM, may not know how to best incorporate location and mapping into their solutions. That's the challenge we're facing.It's not a technology problem; its a conceptual problem; Participants at this conference can be considered the early innovators that see the opportunity and are building their capability early on Once their competitors start finding out about it, then we'll start seeing more interest.

JF: Oracle has a Retail focus as well as in many other sectors.Do your industry managers understand the potential in using spatial as a differentiator?

JP: The spatial component of this (Oracle database) and doing what we do, as a differentiator, as Xavier says, people in Oracle get it.And they really understand, for the most part, that this is something they can win against their competitors, whether it be a technology or an application sale.We look at our basic competition as IBM, on the database side, and then we have Microsoft; but when you look at a truly, spatially enabled database, IBM doesn't have it, neither does Microsoft.And when you can look at topology, and you can look at networks, and you can look at raster capability and look at imagery; what Oracle has put together is a very, very fine capability. You said 'cobble together' before. You don't have to cobble together anything.Our customers are now starting to recognize that between 80 % and 90% of what they want to do, they can do with Oracle.

XL: That actually gets to a very important point.With 10g, you've crossed a threshold where you can have your traditional play, where a traditional GIS vendor can use Oracle Spatial, as a neutral data store; and still use your GIS system for most of the processing and logic is in there, and use the database as a store.But with 10g, there's now enough functionality there where you need a lot "thinner" functionality on the client, or on the mid-tier, wherever that GIS logic is, business rules or whatever; where most of the processing is done now in the database.That sort of flips the model around.So that is now possible, and we are now seeing people building solutions, whether its an oil solution or a utility solution, on the GIS and use the interface for more network applications and move them directly onto the database.

JF: Well, I think that is where some of the current GIS technology providers see a threat, because if you are providing 80% to 90% of the functionality, why go to them? Then, of course, you are a true competitor. Now the other example is where Oracle, in 10g, is providing a very specific piece of GIS functionality, like a linear referencing system.I look at that as a very specific piece of location technology that is a very focused on a particular market segment...that's really GIS functionality and its already in the database.How would you respond?

XL: Well its both.We have many transportation customers.They want to do linear referencing in one environment.So, they choice of doing the LRS with the GIS tools.But most DOTs (departments of transportation) have multiple tools already; you can't get them to standardize on one tool. They can still use the tools that they are using and have interfaces to queries in the database.We released LRS in Oracle Spatial 8.1.7.I'm getting requirements and features from different verticals.If you were to look at Oracle Spatial in just one instance, it looks like a lot of functionality is already there but realize that our customers aren't using Oracle Spatial as a GIS; they're using Oracle Spatial to support linear referencing; to support utility systems; to support LBS (location-based services).So, its those customers that need the power of the database.So, I should emphasize that they customers are looking at the scalability and the security of the database, such as for homeland security, not that we've got this spatial database that can replace GIS.It could do that but we rarely see that as being the case.It may be the case, partly because, the GIS vendors already do that very well.So, trying to displace them, one, is not a very good financial approach because you're trying to displace incumbents in there; two, it's difficult; three, they are our partners.So, there is capability there that we can leverage.So what we want to do is because those customer want to leverage the power of that, we give them the option to do that; with their existing tools or with new generations of very lightweight components.

JF: Ellison has said that "databases will get larger and more inclusive." This is a rather self-serving statement but there are millions of transactions that Oracle databases handle every minute, many of which are from retail point of sale systems, and each of which 'could' contain a spatial reference.How is the company preparing both its sales organization to understand the potential use of location technology and its customers to realize what they may be missing in their own data stores? You may have to actually market the capability to process and analyze these data.How do you respond?

JP: We're doing that right now in an area I call "sensor-based" computing, such as in RFID (radio frequency identification).And the huge amount of information that is captured by embedding sensors into RFID tags, temperature, etc.; tons of information.So, what we're trying to figure out is that when you get into areas like this, how do we take, and how does the group that Xavier is with, what kind of R&D are doing to make sure that we have, from a software perspective, the kind of capability to help with that information and those transaction sets.

XL: One important feature we introduced in 10g was geocoding. I think its the most important, because it enables this type of community, the retail, the insurance, the financial community, to take that first step to geocode businesses, their site locations, whatever.We have those algorithms to do that, combined with NAVTEQ data or Tele Atlas data, license that, bring it in; we have the geocoding functions that will work on the existing data.That is a fundamental first step before we can get into anything that we're talking about here, which is point based.We were finding that when we would tell customers, "Well, first you must geocode your data" and "buy the Sagent geocoder or buy the MapInfo geocoder" that's where it stopped.It didn't go beyond that; there was a barrier there in terms of complexity and cost. So we're trying to enable the infrastructure that they already paid for; that they already have.We're trying to reduce barriers by making location part of it, so they don't have to bolt on a GIS system; they have that option, but if may make more sense to make location and geometry part of the database.

JP: In financial services, health, the public sector, defense, and homeland security, one of the things that never gets discussed, I have to bring it up all the time, is that our customers take for granted that when they buy various tool sets or various applications or technology, that they get security.That's not true.And we've gone to great lengths, since 1977, to do everything we can to certify our database.So the Oracle database has every certification that you can get.Its got common criteria; there is a policy in the government that says that if you buy COTS (computer off-the-shelf) software from ESRI, Intergraph, Oracle, you name it, that has any connection to national security, you have to have common criteria, FIPS 140-2 and some others.These are many assessments that you have to go through.It makes you a better company to go through it.Security has to be a big issue, but we never talk about it.

JF: What about this notion of trying to push the discussion further about spatially-enabling enterprise applications.Can that happen in the foreseeable future?
JP: Today, when we had the speaker and the panel that I was on; you could just see it; no matter what you put in the program and no matter how hard you try to get away from GIS; what did we end up with...to talk about enterprise GIS? No, that's not why we're here.That's not what this was all about.It is talking about location-based services within an enterprise, and what are the ways to do these things.It's not just a GIS mentality, and that's the thing I see all the time: is that GIS has been around and its done very good things; but when you see David Sonnen's little curve there, and we've seen it for location-based services...number of users starts going up exponentially, when you start going into areas outside of GIS, and I think that's important.And people always seem to want to gravitate back to GIS.Not that I want to knock down the GIS capability or be pejorative about what I am saying about GIS.It's just that everything has a role, and now we're going into a whole new world of real-time enterprises; of people wanting to do things in a different way.Yet, the GIS community, as I see it, and not any specific GIS companies, but collectively we seem to want to keep control of the technology stack that wants to go in a different direction.And just keep bringing it back in.You can't cross the chasm (by doing that); you need to get out there and start looking at different ways of doing things.

JF: Jack, Xavier, thanks very much for those candid remarks.


Published Wednesday, July 28th, 2004

Written by Joe Francica



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